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Suffer Little Children
The Legionaries of Christ has a dark secret in its past. But the new Pope is unwilling to confront it.
Eamonn McCann, 03 Aug 2005
Starting as he no doubt means to go on, Benedict XVI has organised his first top-level cover-up of child sex abuse.
Fr. Marcial Maciel stood down last month as head of the Legionaries of Christ, the order which he’d founded in Mexico in the 1940s. Simultaneously, the Vatican announced that no canonical process would be launched in response to allegations that Maciel had sexually abused seminarians.
The Legionaires had been second only to Opus Dei in the affections of the serial sex-abuse cover-up organiser John Paul II. In November last, the then Pope had preached at a mass in the Vatican marking the 60th anniversary of Maciel’s ordination. In his homily, John Paul praised the depraved 84-year-old’s “intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry…full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit”.
At the time, the Vatican was well aware of the strength of the charges against Maciel. These had come to light in 1997 in a series of articles in the Connecticut paper the Hartford Courant (the order has its world headquarters close by). Nine men had gone on record claiming that Maciel had abused them when they were between 10 and 16 and living in seminaries in Spain and Italy. Eight of the nine are successful Mexican or Mexican-American professionals.
The ninth, Juan-Manuel Fernández-Amenábar, former principal of the Irish Institute in Mexico City, later president of Anahuac University, had dictated his accusations from his deathbed in 1996.
The nine claim that they were by no means the only seminarians abused by Maciel over the years, and that his activities were widely known within the order.
Typically, the accusers say they were summoned to Maciel’s bedroom at night and induced to engage in mutual masturbation. In some cases, Maciel would then attempt forcible buggery. It is claimed that he greatly preferred light-skinned boys. One man says he was urged to seek out “the lightest and brightest” when on a recruiting mission in Spain.
The Legionaires signed up boys from mainly middle-class backgrounds, convincing devout parents that their sons would be prepared for a life of service to the Church and thence eternal salvation. The child recruits were required to vow loyalty to the Pope as well as to the order. They were oath-bound never to speak ill of the order and to report negative statements about the order by fellow seminarians. All were constantly warned that leaving the order would doom them to hell: “lost vocation, sure damnation”.
One account has it that: “Disciplinary standards were medieval – students were given straps studded with hooks to wrap around their thighs to ward off impure thoughts…A system of total control denied them access to telephones, and all mail was monitored…The oath to inform made the boys spy on one another, and punishments were severe, including solitary confinement for more than a month at a time.” Isolated and utterly powerless, they were at the mercy of predators like Maciel.
The Legionaires of Christ currently has 2,500 seminarians of various ages lodged at institutions in more than a dozen countries.
The Church’s investigation into the Connecticut allegations – of sex abuse and profaning the confessional – was undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under its leader, Josef Ratzinger. As late as the beginning of this year, an official of the congregation, Mon. Charles Scicluna, travelled from Rome to Connecticut and thence to Mexico to take further statements from former seminarians. But now the formal “process” has been abandoned.
It is not known whether John Paul in his last years was kept fully abreast of developments in the investigation. What’s certain is that Ratzinger, the sole authority within the CDF, will have been kept up to date at all times. In his new manifestation as Pope, he will have known exactly what he was doing when, following the pattern of bishops in Ireland and elsewhere down the years, he last month allowed Maciel to slip into the shadows, and the CDF to shut down its investigation.
All over the world, abusers and their victims will have gotten the message loud and clear – Suffer on, little children!
I see that Bertie Ahern is just back from Rome where he bowed the knee before Benedict and begged him to come here on a visit, presumably so that the clerical abusers of Ireland can personally pay obeisance their new capo di tutti capi.
Michael Rosen will be known to some of you as the writer of exquisitely beautiful children’s stories. He’s a Jewish socialist from the east end of London. Two days after the bomb attacks that left more than 50 innocent dead there, he published this poem. It’s called,
We have no mouths
You don’t see the holes in the ground where we were put
We are the unfound
We are uncounted
You don’t see the homes we made
We’re not even the small print or the bit in brackets.
You see less of us than you see of the dust
You see less of us than you see of the wind
Because we were somewhere else,
because we lived far from you,
because our minutes, hours, days and years did not last as long as yours,
because you have cameras that point the other way,
because you talk about other people…
…Of that moment when we went
you can’t even say you missed it.
Isn’t there a load of music around to miss at the minute? You can boycott a big-name gig almost every day in the week. I thought of travelling to Dublin to miss Oasis, but the car was banjaxed, and have you seen the price of train tickets these days?
Instead, I ambled up to the Verbal Arts, the only rock venue in Europe built on walls which withstood a 109-day siege in the 17th century, to hear a blistering, glistering line-up of Tainted Perfection, TJ Shiels and the Manhattan Project, Civilian and Multi-Storey, and all for a £2 asking price. Like, fifty pence per maybe-mega band of the year after next. As the great Tony Bird still asks of Black Brother: “Tell me, ma-an, How much more do you want?”
The most distinctive aspect of the Verbal Arts as a venue is that there’s no stage, so buck-lepping punters commonly find themselves betwixt and between the musos in mid-mayhem.
Some pause to pass the time of day or make constructive suggestions, such as trying that note half a tonne higher to see if it fits better. Somebody collides, crash-bang, into a bouncy bassist to multitudinous whoops of delight.
Multitude might be putting it a bit high, which a few of us were but tried to hide it so as not to give bad example to the younger generation.
The average age on-stage, so to misspeak, looked to me like nine, but the consensus of the 50-strong audience held that, like themselves, it was more like 16.